It’s been an amazing year for triple-A games, and that’s dominated a lot of the headlines. But it’s been an equally amazing year for indie games, and that deserves just as much attention.
The following are our picks for indie games that you should definitely have an eye on. There are, of course, far more than we can list here. And they don’t stop coming — it’s hard to keep track! But these ones managed to rise above the noise and make a solid impression.
This is one of those games that could’ve been released a long time ago, yet it stayed on Early Access, just adding a neverending stream of content and features.
A 2D roguelite in the vein of Dark Souls, Dead Cells has an evasion roll with invincibility frames and your moveset is determined by the weapon you’re holding. You’ll die. A lot. But each time, the dungeon you’re escaping from rearranges itself, providing a different layout each time.
You’ll also retain a bit of gold, and as you explore more of the available environments, you’ll unlock more weapons and items to use. It manages to capture that sense of mastery, in which enemies that previously seemed insurmountable slowly become fodder as you race forward to a tougher challenge.
‘Endless Space 2’
Forget Civilization. Amplitude, the studio behind Endless Space and Endless Legend, has been the real leaders of this genre for years now.
The factions in this galactic 4X are wildly asymmetrical, and vastly more interesting than anything else you’ll find in this space. Whereas other 4x games will slightly adjust a few sliders to differentiate alien races, Amplitude throws the kitchen sink at it. There’s even a race incapable of diplomacy, because all it knows is war.
Somehow it all works. In addition to being balanced, Endless Space 2 is endlessly fun, and you’ll spend an endless amount of hours completing games.
It’s no surprise seeing this game here, seeing as we recently gave it a perfect score.
This little arena brawler is bursting at the seams with clever design ideas, and built from the ground up for esports. It does away with a lot of the slower elements of MOBAs, swaps to WASD movement, makes every shot a skillshot, and borrows fighting game design to make 5-minutes matches of skillful joy.
Don’t let the stripped down design and quick matches fool you — with 23 characters at time of writing, and lots of talents to choose from, there’s a fair amount of theorycrafting as well as dexterity required to excel here. It’s absolutely worthy of the time it’d take to practice team compositions with a mate and get serious.
‘Hand of Fate 2’
Earlier in the year we described this as the “action game for readers.” Hand of Fate 2 goes back and forth between action, chance-based choose your own adventure, and bite-sized storytelling that grabs you in just a few paragraphs.
Seeing as each scenario is just a few paragraphs long, it needs to engross you again and again — a hard feat, but one it accomplishes admirably. The last game I can think of that lured players into its tangential intrigues so effectively was The Witcher 3, and that’s some damn good company to be compared with.
Yes, it finally came out. Cuphead was known for being hard, and maybe not quite the “tough, but fair” difficulty you’d find in something like a Souls game. Here, it was just hard.
Cuphead might not have lived up to everyone’s wild, overblown expectations. But it’s certainly one of the most memorable games of the year, in large part to its iconic art, animations, and attention to detail. Even the backgrounds in this game are intensely alive and populated.
For those who like lots of bloom with their boom, Nex Machina is a top-down, twin stick bullet hell shoot-em-up that keeps the intensity turned up to 11 the whole way through. That’s no short amount of time, too. You’re given 99 lives to beat the main campaign, and I actually found I had to walk away from the game halfway through to take a break.
It’s a sustained session of staying at the height of your senses. You might even just turn the game off before you finish, regardless of whether you have lives or not. But it stays memorable, and looks great, and is just the right amount of challenging.
Rain World creates some creepy, atmospheric settings but it’s the animations that really stand out.
You play as a “slugcat” which needs to both hunt and avoid being hunted. There are some awfully scary and spiky predators out there. There are a lot of beautiful indie platformers to choose from in 2017, and this is one of the darker and more special ones.
It’s another one of those indie games that instantly sucks you in through its graphics. And Rime gets no less engrossing as you go along — a big part of the fun is exploring this massive island.
While “condensed” isn’t the first word that comes to mind, it’s almost like a condensed Zelda. The temple puzzles, the exploration… Even the Wind Waker vibes from the graphics. And with Breath of the Wild getting most Game of the Year awards this year, that’s great company to be compared to.
‘What Remains of Edith Finch’
There’s a lot to discover in the Finch mansion. As the last Finch left alive, you head up to the family property and start looking around.
Every item has a story to tell, and gives you more insight into this strange family. Each story is also on the last day of a different Finch’s life. After a while, you might start seeing things in common.